Justice Department moving toward charges in Edwards case
May 25th, 2011
05:10 PM ET
12 years ago

Justice Department moving toward charges in Edwards case

Washington (CNN) – Following news that the Justice Department is moving towards a possible indictment of former presidential candidate and Sen.John Edwards, his defense attorney Wednesday asserted his client’s innocence and said a prosecution is unwarranted.

“John Edwards has done wrong in his life – and he knows it better than anyone – but he did not break the law,” attorney Greg Craig said in a statement late Wednesday.

Craig went on to attack the Justice Department’s handling of the case. “The government’s theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is novel and untested. There is no civil or criminal precedent for such a prosecution.”

The Justice Department has authorized prosecutors to bring charges in the case which involves financial support given to Edwards’ mistress and whether there was a violation of campaign law, two sources familiar with the case told CNN.

An indictment could be averted if prosecutors and lawyers for Edwards reach a plea deal.

Edwards is now considering his options, one source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

The government wants Edwards to plead guilty to a felony, but he doesn't want to do that because he would lose his law license, a source close to the Edwards family told CNN. Edwards has talked to friends and associates about wanting to start a public interest law firm, and "doesn't want to lose his license, not to mention he is terrified of going to jail," the source added.

Since 2009, a federal grand jury in North Carolina has been investigating payments made to Rielle Hunter, Edwards' mistress, who worked as a videographer for his campaign. Edwards fathered an out of wedlock baby with Hunter while he was married. The grand jury has been investigating whether the payments should be considered un-reported campaign donations. Lawyers for Edwards have argued they should not be.

“The government originally investigated allegations that Senator Edwards’ campaign’s funds were misused but continued its pursuit even after finding that not one penny from the Edwards campaign was involved. The Justice Department has wasted millions of dollars and thousands of hours on a matter more appropriately a topic for the Federal Election Commission to consider, not a criminal court,” Craig said in his statement.

The Justice Department had no comment Wednesday on the Edwards probe.

Whatever the outcome, a resolution to the two year investigation by the government is expected "soon," the source with knowledge of the investigation said Wednesday.

Both sources refused to speak on the record because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The source close to the family describes Edwards' legal team as "solid people" who are trying to convince him to take a plea and get a better offer by suggesting the government's case isn't as strong as the federal prosecution team might think. The source said Edwards' defense lawyers hope to still sway the government to offer Edwards a better deal.

The Edwards legal team had hoped that the Justice Department would end up not pursuing charges.

Much of the government's case appears centered on a former aide. In his tell-all book "The Politician," former Edwards staffer Andrew Young wrote that heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon gave Edwards a gift of $700,000 that was used to cover-up the affair with Hunter, a video producer for the campaign who was pregnant with the former senator's child. Mellon's attorneys have previously said she thought she was just helping a friend, didn't know what the money was meant for and that she did nothing wrong.

Edwards declined to comment Tuesday to CNN affiliate WRAL-TV of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Young told WRAL in 2010 that Mellon did not know how her money was used, but said the money went toward flights and to pay rent for Hunter's California home while Young pretended to be the father of Hunter's child.

Edwards later admitted he fathered the child.

Edwards told ABC's Nightline in 2008 he never paid a dime to any of the people involved in the scandal and never asked any money to be paid to the those involved.

–CNN Chief National Correspondent John King contributed to this report

You can follow Kevin Bohn on Twitter @KevinBohnCNN

Updated 6:28 p.m.

Filed under: John Edwards • Rielle Hunter
soundoff (203 Responses)
  1. Chinese guy

    I knew in 2004 that from the very beginning that you cannot elect a malpractice attorney to be your Vice-president-and I was right.
    You may not have like George Bush as your president, but you have to admit that he is an honest and decent man.

    May 25, 2011 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  2. Mike Friedman

    He makes a lifelong Democrat like me happy that the ticket he was on lost.

    May 25, 2011 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  3. Norm

    @M: The bankers didn't create 'a system', it was always there. The Dems on the other hand pushed Freddie/Fannie to underwrite all those loans when they shouldn't have. Bush warned and tried to stop them, but the Dems wouldn't have any of it. That's what caused the mess we're in. Please try to keep up.

    May 25, 2011 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  4. Den

    This will be typical liberalism at it's finest. Nothing will happen. Now if it was a conservative WoW look out. Hey maybe the great annointed one will pardon him. There's a thought.

    May 25, 2011 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  5. Carol

    Finally, justice...this creep should be prosecuted...it's called Karma...what you put out in the universe, comes back three fold...no deals should be made...you broke the law, you need to pay the price..this is what we are taught from childhood.. that there are consequences for every wrong we do.

    May 25, 2011 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  6. Rocco

    You know, I'm loosing faith in humanity and not because of Edwards but everyone else. It's so easy for everyone to be so judgmental about everyone else. it seems we expect perfection from everyone else but ourselves. Each of us have our strengths and weaknesses. American society in general seems to behave like a pack of rats, gnawing on everything and anything that gets in the way of their opinions. People make mistakes, life is hard and complicated sometimes. Before throwing mud at others ask yourself if it is even fitting for your own character to be so concerned about what others do or don't do. Of course he tried hiding the affair, but because of this we are to assume how horrible of a person he must be? Yes, he must be a terrible, terrible person. After all, those throwing mud ... you should know shouldn't you?

    May 25, 2011 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  7. Name

    Any man who cheat on his sick wife should be thrown in jail. Breaking someones heart is more serious than breaking her head.

    May 25, 2011 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    If anyone out there thinks they are in the possession of those rare qualities that made John Edwards so appealing to his base, please do yourself and everyone around you a favor and avoid public service. You may enter with the best intentions but surely you will ingratiate yourself with power and money beyond your own fabrication and it will warp your soul into a disfigured minister of misery.

    May 25, 2011 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  9. mom o3

    This guy reminds me of a phony TV preacher with his slicked up helmet hair. His mistress looks and acts like a dumb dog. Frankly, I was surprised that he had a mistress–I always thought he was g-y. On the flip side, Republican Eric Cantor is not getting my vote for Humanitarian of the Year–since he saw fit to complain about all the funds that will be needed to help the victims of the Joplin tornadoes. Maybe he can donate some of his mega salary. Politicians can be the lowest of the food chain sometimes.....

    May 25, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. petemg

    Why do they suddenly want to prosecute Edwards years after the crime was committed. What about the other politicians who have created sex crimes. I thought that was a prerequisite. There are not too many out there who have not created a more or lesser crime. What about the politicians who cannot pass a budget plan. What about the one who had the affair with a woman from Argentina. Come one people we have bigger problems to take care of. We have a budget problem. We have a president who uses his cohorts to pass the Obama care without reading the whole thing. I could go on and on, because we all see bigger crimes going one. Get out the microscope then to examine all others.

    May 25, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  11. Jake

    so sad when someone you once believed in falls so hard.

    May 25, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  12. a Russian

    I guess the government wanted to throw one in the shark pin to deter suspicion from those other corrupt officials.

    May 25, 2011 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  13. njsmiley

    Why bother? The most decent woman in this man's life has passed away. His political career is over – for the most part. So who in the Justice Department doesn't have anything meaningful to do?

    May 25, 2011 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  14. Kenzh

    @Chinese guy you gotta be kidding me. W an honest guy? The guy who brought us to war, killed 4500 of our finest, bankrupted the nation so he and his buddy Cheney can take off with all the spoils of war?

    May 25, 2011 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  15. The Day of Financial Reckoning is HERE - The Great Democrat Welfare Society Ends

    Amazing to hear some libtards in here suggest this was a personal matter and nothing criminal happened. Sounds like Edwards misused nearly a million dollars worth of campaign funds to fund and hide his sexual escapade. I hope he spends MANY years in prison. My only regret is that his former wife is not alive to see the scumbag serving prison time. What he did to her was simply unforgiveable. Besides being a crook lawyer and politicians, he was a total scam artist and a horrible person. To think the Democrats placed this clown near the presidency should tell everybody something about the state of that party.

    May 25, 2011 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  16. Paula Settle

    He has done wrong morally and with his campaign but it is not worth prison time. Make him do free legal work for 5
    years for indigent clients.

    May 25, 2011 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  17. Rob near DC

    I guess Obama is afraid of the possible competition in the 2012 primaries, so he's going to get any possible contender locked up in legal battles beforehand. Otherwise, why wait until now to do this?

    May 25, 2011 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  18. Meedily

    I hope he ends up in prison with someone he sent there.

    May 25, 2011 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  19. La Piovra

    Treat him like everybody else. And then treat everybody else like everybody else.

    May 25, 2011 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  20. Dianne

    I campaigned for him twice, and actually I want my campaign contributions refunded. I certainly didn't expect my contributions to be used to house some tart.

    May 25, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  21. KB

    when he was running I used to refer to this guy as the wesson oil man because he appeared and acted so disingenuous – is it really that hard to see these things in people?????

    May 25, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  22. msmetz

    Perfect role for Tom Cruise – just sayin'

    May 25, 2011 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  23. Cogito Ergo Sum

    So many bad choices Edwards made. Let's start with the first one: WEAR A CONDOM. Bad enough to be cheating on your wife who is dying of cancer, while you're off running for president. If he had chosen to wear condoms, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Second, if you have to support your love child, don't use your PAC money to do it. STUPID. Third: when you screw up, don't try to hide it. Come clean, make a full confession and retreat in humility. Say you're sorry. Remove yourself from the limelight. When in doubt, go back to rule number one.

    May 25, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  24. Liz

    Too bad they can't bring Rielle Hunter up on charges for being a skanky bitch. Or could they charge her with something if she knew where the money was coming from?

    May 25, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  25. Donminion13

    Please dnt b shocked as if evreybody dnt know the dirty tricks in politics its nothing new to waste tax payers money!

    May 25, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
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